Private companies doing rather well in anti-immigration wave moving across world

Disaster capitalists look for ways to make money from misery, crisis or fear.

The growing wave of anti-immigration sentiment sweeping the world suits such companies just fine. It’s an area I’m investigating for a forthcoming book and this New York Times piece perfectly captures the mood in Britain; the dangerous nexus between government rhetoric, firms claiming to “solve” the problem and profitability. And who really benefits from all this? Some governments with short-term political gain and corporations that convince officials that only they can “efficiently” manage the issue:

The boy was 13 when a dawn immigrationraid abruptly ended his father’s four-year quest for political asylum in Britain. By nightfall of that day in 2005, father and son were hundreds of miles from home, locked in the privately run Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Center here, scheduled for deportation to their native Angola in the morning.

Instead, shortly after midnight, the despondent father, Manuel Bravo, 35, walked to a stairwell with a bed sheet and hanged himself. The note he left said why: so that his orphaned boy could stay in Britain.

Indeed, the law did not allow immigration authorities to deport an orphan who had no one waiting for him. A British family the Bravos knew through church took the boy, Antonio, home to Armley, the working-class suburb of Leeds where they had settled in 2001.

Antonio, now 19, is an apprentice electrician who aspires to be an engineer. Not far from his father’s hilltop grave, he shares a century-old house with five British roommates and regularly visits the family who raised him. “I want to make my dad proud and not feel like he gave his life away for no reason,” he said.

But next month, Antonio faces the threat of deportation all over again. Under changing laws, instead of qualifying for citizenship this year, as he expected, he is not eligible to apply. His temporary residence permit, granted on humanitarian grounds, is expiring with no clear path to renewal.

Antonio’s story is emblematic of one nation’s escalating efforts to repel unwanted migration, through an enforcement system partly run by private contractors.

The Bravos had entered the world of outsourced immigration enforcement. In effect, they were in the custody of the Anglo-Danish company now known as G4S.

Its guards drove them past the brick villas and open fields of Bedfordshire to an old military base where the Yarl’s Wood detention center, developed by the company in 2001, lies behind barbed wire.

Contractors now run 7 of Britain’s 11 immigration detention centers, where capacity has grown 75 percent since 2001. Mr. Bravo’s one day in custody is documented in rare detail in inquest records. What still haunts Antonio is the moment when G4S transport guards discovered a brand-new clothesline in his father’s bag. They took the rope from Mr. Bravo, who was under treatment for depression, but never alerted Yarl’s Wood. G4S declined to comment for this article on its operations, either in general or with regard to the Bravo case.

A nurse at Yarl’s Wood, employed by another subcontractor, confiscated Mr. Bravo’s antidepressants and did not ask if he was suicidal — for fear, she testified, of putting the idea in his head. Official inquiries concluded that these lapses made no difference.

Father and son were escorted through eight locked doors to their room, where Antonio waited while Mr. Bravo made last-ditch phone calls.

One was to the vicar, who had been unable to reach government officials. “He was really struggling,” Mr. Kaye said. “He was terrified of going back.”

When Mr. Bravo returned to their room, Antonio said, he brought bad news: their deportation was set for 10:30 a.m. “He said, ”˜Whatever happens, be brave and strong and I’m proud of you.’… ”

Antonio was sleeping when security cameras recorded his father’s suicide. The ombudsman’s 2006 report complains that for hours no one accepted responsibility for waking the boy to tell him his father was dead, and later, no one explained that he would not be deported alone.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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